We Need Diverse Picture Books: Reading Lists & Resources

In 2004 I was a member of the Maine Humanities Council's Born To Read committee mandated to select 12 picture books for its new diversity initiative Many Eyes Many Voices: Talking About Difference Through Children's Literature. We created a list of picture books that we felt challenged stereotypes and encouraged children to value difference.

But 13 years later, I'm still asking myself if we've made much progress in terms of publishing and therefore valuing difference?

The numbers say no.
 We publish even less picture books featuring children of color now than we did a decade go.

According to a study by the Cooperative Children's Book Center at The University of Wisconsin, of 3200 children's books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people. The CCBC goes on to say:
"the 2014 numbers reveal mixed news too,,, our statistics reveal that the number of diverse books have been on a plateau far too long, and something has to change if children's books are to remain relevant in the twenty-first century."
We can & must do better. Valuing difference is valuing who we REALLY are. All children need to see themselves reflected in the stories & images we choose to publish, review, write, read and celebrate on digital media.
"Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?" - Walter Dean Myers, Where Are The People Of Color In Children's Books?, New York Times, March 15, 2014 
It's our responsibility as book creators. Books reflect who we are as a culture. I believe we're better than this & must speak up & do more.

I challenge the publishing industry (editors, illustrators, agents, marketers, magazine reviewers) to do more.
Ask yourselves these questions before you create one of the most influentials technologies known to man, the book.

1. Does the main character have to be white?
2. Does every scene have to be white only. (Look at most best selling books- usually 2 white boys)
3. Are you challenging, disrupting or colluding with dxi  sting stereotypes of people?
4. Do you hire people of color to tell stories?

Please find me on twitter: @cynthiajabar, if you have other questions of value I can add to this list.                                                                 

Here's my list of 25 picture books from my own library that I believe Value Difference.

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7. A Chair For My Mother By Vera B. Williams, Caldecott Medal, Greenwillow, 1988, Spanish & English

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8. Tar Beach By Faith Ringgold, Caldecott Medal, Crown Publishers, 1998

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9. A Story, A Story, Retold & Illustrated By Gail E. Haley, Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon & Schuster, 1970
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16. The Red Butterfly, By Deborah Noyes & Illustrated By Sophie Blackall, Candlewick, 2007

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17. No Hickory, No Dickory, No Dock, Caribbean Nursery Rhymes, By John Agard & Grace Nichols, Illustrated by Cynthia Jabar, Candlewick, 1991

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18. What A Wonderful World, By George David Weiss & Bob Theile & Illustrated By Ashley Bryant, Atheneum, 1995
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21. Martin's Big Words, The Life of Martin Luther King Jr., By Doreen Rappaport & Illustrated By Bryan Collier, Hyperion, 2001

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22. Tiger On A Tree, By Anushka Ravishankar Illustrated By Pulak Biswas, Tara Publishing, 1997

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23. We Are All Alike, We Are All Different, Written & Illustrated By the Cheltenhame Elementary School Kindergartners, Scholastic, 1991

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25. Dizzy, By Jonah Winter & Illustrated By Sean Qualls, Arthur Levine, 2006

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What books or reading lists would you like to add?
Tweet me: @cynthiajabar and I'll add them here.

More We Need Diverse Picture Books Reading Lists 



30 Multicultural Books Every Teen Should Know, compiled by the Cooperative Children's Book Center

Small Presses of Color, compiled by the Cooperative Children's Book Center

World Full of Color List, Shelftalker, compiled by Elizabeth Bluemele, President, Association of Booksellers for Children

Brown Book Shelf, United In Story, a list of resources & books written by African American authors


Resources & Related Reading 

Diversity in Children's Books: Colouring in Required by Alison Flood, The Guardian

Why Hasn't The Number of Multicultural Books Increased in The Last 18 Years? Lee & Low Books Blog (Questions posed to publishers and librarians.)
True or False? Multicultural Books Don't Sell, We Are The Problem, We Are The Solution by Elizabeth Bluemie, co-owner of the Flying Pig Bookstore
 Pushing The Envelope And Making A Difference by Phoebe Yeh




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